THE Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association have responded to a statement made by Minister of State Andrew Doyle where he outlined how illegally burnt land must be removed by farmers for payment from the Basic Payment and other land-based schemes.
INHFA CAP chair Colm O'Donnell says any proposal that could see farmers lose payments due to the actions of others is totally unacceptable.
The minister's statement recommends to farmers and their advisors that illegally burnt land should be taken out by means of an amendment to their 2017 BPS application. This, stated Mr. O'Donnell, is 'ill advised, confusing and potentially very costly to these farmers, families and communities'.
Added Mr. O'Donnell: “The minister must clarify immediately what he means as it is our understanding that where the applicant (farmer) is found at inspection to be responsible for breaching their requirements, only then can a penalty be applied. So in this instance it would have to be proven that the farmer lit the fire.”
This, he outlined, was also clarified by Dr. Kevin Smyth, assistant secretary general, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, at a Joint Oireachtas Committee hearing in April 2015 where, in response to questioning on burning, Dr. Smyth stated how 'No farmer who is a victim of burning with somebody else having set the fire will be penalised. I know that a number of fires had nothing to do with gorse removal. Some of them were sheer vandalism and nothing else. We will deal with such cases on the basis of force majeure. I can give the Deputy an assurance in that regard.'
Mr. O'Donnell concluded by outlining how the statement made by Kevin Smyth was only two years ago, saying: “As we understand it, what he said still stands. However for the many innocent farmers who are now fearful of losing some or all of their farm payments, immediate clarity and reassurance needs to be given by Minister Doyle that only those who lit the fire have anything to fear.”